The tradition of Sonny Bryan’s award-winning barbecue started more than a century ago on February 13, a date that would become circled on the calendar again and again throughout Bryan’s Barbecue history. February 13, 1910, marked the opening of Elias Bryan’s Oak Cliff restaurant, Bryan's Barbecue. Exactly 20 years later to the day, his eldest son, William “Red” Jennings Bryan, launched his own restaurant. When February 13 rolled around again 28 years later, Elias’ grandson, William "Sonny" Jennings Bryan Jr., and his wife, Joanne, opened another restaurant, the first Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse.
Although a different Dallas family now manages multiple locations of the restaurant chain in Utah and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the legendary barbecue lives on. Sonny Bryan's original barbecue sauce spices up its savory pulled meats and ribs, which have been devoured by US presidents, famous entertainers, sports legends, and A-list animated Disney characters alike. Sonny's seasoned chefs also cater heaps of fresh brisket and smoked chicken to parties and events.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse has been on the culinary radar since 1989, snapping up awards and publicity from Food Network, the Travel Channel’s Man V. Food Nation, and Emeril Lagasse’s The Originals with Emeril. The modest joints have also earned some highbrow epicurean chops through a 2006 Zagat rating and a 2000 James Beard Foundation award for Culinary Excellence and Achievement.
In 1961, J.B. Wilson founded his own barbecue eatery and populated the menu with recipes of his own design. These recipes remained unchanged throughout the years, as did his signature welcome—greeting customers in a top hat and cane. When he fell ill in 2004, he passed the business’s reins to his close friend Amos Adetula. Afraid that J.B’s recipes would otherwise be lost forever, Amos graciously agreed to lead the restaurant into the future. His legacy now secure, Mr. Wilson passed away three days later.
Today, Amos still makes all the original sauces for the restaurant's ribs, brisket, and pork himself, including the sweet sauce that adorns the restaurant’s signature baked beans. Savory dishes complement sweet-potato or buttermilk pies, which the staff makes by hand from scratch each day. A number of longneck brews stands at the ready to cool diners’ tongues in the wake of smoked meats, hot baked potatoes, and periodic fire-breathing competitions. Inside the original location on Apache, large plasma televisions adorn the exposed log cabin–style walls, hanging above booths bedecked in the original black and red checkered style. Outside the eatery's confines, breezy outdoor seating around an original built-in concrete fire pit encourages frequent fresh-air feasts. When lovers of Wilson's require the food to come to them, culinary crews transport the eatery’s fare with full offsite catering services for events such as tailgate parties, where staffers set up and break down after the meal.
Railhead Smokehouse rolls out a hearty menu of smoked meats in a rustically vintage, family-friendly atmosphere. Intimate dining parties can sidle up to a polished wooden four-top table, serving as a gastro-football field for tackling sandwich platters of sliced ($7) and chopped ($5.60) beef-brisket sandwich platters, accompanied by a duo of beans, potato salad, or coleslaw or a single side of french fries. Meanwhile, out on an expansive, sun-filled patio, patrons can bite into a dinner portion of barbecued ribs ($10.50) as their backsides rest on black wire-rimmed furniture that sits a few strata above aged dinosaur jerky. Customers may conclude feasting with bites of cobbler ($1.90) and sips of tea ($1.35). Railhead Smokehouse also slings a selection of reasonably priced drafts (not covered by this Groupon) to aid postmeal mouth cleansing.
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q’s sauce-soaked menu teems with classic dishes made with chopped and smoked meats, plus a medley of hearty sides. Carnivorous concoctions including pulled pork ($7.99) and chopped beef brisket ($8.99) join sides such as sweet ranch beans and carrot-raisin salad, giving jaws a workout while toning tongues’ six-pack abs. Sandwiches stack one protein ($4.89) or two ($5.99), and a cavalcade of smoked meats including boneless chicken breast ($10.99/lb.) offers unadorned taste that far surpasses an all-dough pizza or an ice sandwich. Cousin’s Alliance Town Center location, known as Cousin’s Urban BBQ, boasts additional sandwiches and eclectic entrees, such as the Texican tacos plate, a border-blurring pile of chipotle-mango salsa, coleslaw, and cilantro atop brisket, pulled pork, or chicken ($7.99 for 2, $8.99 for 3).
A community institution since 1956, Vance Godbey’s all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet promotes festive feasting across four sprawling dining rooms in a historic converted ranch-style house. Spirited family gatherings and incorporeal families of spirits can refuel with as much high-quality homestyle cooking as each eater desires. Grab a juicy filet mignon or sidle up to some tender brisket meat and adorn it with a side of sweet potatoes, sautéed spinach, or buttered corn. The salad selection abounds with corn, pasta, and crabmeat, and sweets-loving patrons can munch on flaky peach cobbler or run their hands through an endless supply of banana pudding.
Those who have visited the original Cooper's in Llano might have an odd sense of déjà vu upon arriving at the Forth Worth location. That's because the sprawling 26,000-square-foot establishment is a carbon copy of the restaurant that started it all, right down to the wafting scents of mesquite-smoked meats that have been tantalizing appetites since 1953.
Any visit to Cooper's begins at the pits, where barbecue masters hoist open large, metal doors to reveal rows upon rows of ribs, brisket, sausage, and chops—all cooked over the flavors of the mesquite coals. Once you have selected your bounty of tender chicken and succulent pork or beef ribs, head toward a counter packed with Southern sides such as corn on the cob, coleslaw, and potato salad.
Though some have trouble making it to one of the communal dining tables before digging in, those who do will be thankful to find rolls of paper towels in lieu of wimpy napkins. Lively chatter rises from the restaurant’s patio, where diners enjoy views of the Fort Worth skyline and distant rigs pumping barbecue sauce from the earth’s depths.